WWDC 2014: A Quiet Tim Cook Takes The Stage While His Critics Keep Making Noise

Posted: Jun 2 2014, 4:50am CDT | by , in News | Apple

WWDC 2014: A Quiet Tim Cook Takes The Stage While His Critics Keep Making Noise
Photo Credit: Getty Images

Apple watchers know that later today the company’s annual developer conference kicks off. It’s an event where the company talks about its latest innovations and tries to garner support for them in the coming year. By way of example, when Apple rolled out iOS 7 last year, it hoped new apps would be produced for it and customers would love it. Twelve months later, the biggest overhaul of its mobile platform since the beginning has become a smashing success, reaching nearly 90% of iPhones – just in time for Apple to come and tell the world about iOS 8, which it hopes everyone will download this fall and forget about iOS 7.

This cycle of renewal has become Apple’s way of doing business and under CEO Tim Cook, it’s become more rigorous than ever. The company has pushed more of its products — not just the iPhone — onto annual refresh cycles that are backloaded in the second half of the year. Senior vice president Eddy Cue says this year it’s the best lineup he’s seen in 25 years at Apple. Of course, we won’t know until those products arrive as Apple makes it a point generally not to tip its hand. Still Cook’s critics are rolling out the tired tropes about him at a time when not only is Apple certainly not going to satisfy them but also the company’s power seems to be back on the upswing.

Consider these headlines: “Apple chief Tim Cook is under pressure to prove innovative flair is still there,” over at The Guardian and “With no ‘amazing’ devices due at WWDC, Apple’s Tim Cook feels the heat” at Cnet. Looking at those, one can’t but wonder where this pressure and heat are coming from. Surely, it isn’t Apple shareholders. In the past year alone, the company’s stock is up from $450 to a close of $633 last Friday. Since Cook took over in August of 2011, Apple has outpaced the Dow and S&P 500 and is within percentage points of outperforming the Nasdaq. (Yes, it’s fair to note Apple shares hit a high above $700 in September 2012 and haven’t been there since. But by the same arbitrary logic, we could note that since late June of last year Apple’s 60% gain has been double that of Google's 30%.)

Perhaps, then, it’s customers who are generating the heat? There, the story is more mixed. Apple’s most important product, the iPhone, continues to sell in record numbers. The iPad saw a slowdown recently as overall tablet sales appear to have hit a growth plateau. But importantly, there are no indications of customer defections rising on either platform. With a much-rumored large-screen iPhone due this fall, any motivations to defect for a fancy Android model are likely to be muted as well.

No, what Apple seems to be facing instead is a chorus of technology pundits who believe the company has lost its “innovative flair” as Charles Arthur put it in The Guardian or its “mojo” as Cnet described it. In short, these commentators want Apple to demonstrate it can produce an industry-changing product along the lines of iPod/iPhone/iPad in the post-Jobs era. The absence of such a device is proof that something is missing.

Cook, though, like Jobs is a perfectionist. He will ship no new iDevice before its ready. This is especially true after the Apple Maps mess and Cook having been around for some of Jobs own product fiascos (e.g. iPhone 4′s antenna troubles, the stillborn Mac Cube). What critics also don’t realize is that while innovation may be something infused into Apple’s DNA, it doesn’t happen on a preset timetable. There were 6 years between iPod and iPhone, 3 between iPhone and iPad.

Cnet says “skeptics are worried” but despite quoting numerous Apple followers for its post, the closest it came to one was this: “As time moves forward, there will be growing anticipation and perhaps trepidation about what new innovative products the company can deliver,” said Walter Piecyk, with BTIG. In other words, if Apple doesn’t get something new out at some point down the road, people might eventually become concerned they never will. Rather than knock Piecyk for stating the obvious, let’s just note that Cnet seems to have failed to make its case that anyone important is currently worried about anything.

The Guardian does a terrific job in its piece discussing innovation as a concept and what it means for Apple — Arthur is often interesting and the piece is worth a read. But nowhere does this alleged pressure on Cook manifest itself in the form of any current, present force. We are left instead with this “pressure” and “heat” bearing down from somewhere on a CEO who is typically as cool as they come. Cook has promised new products this year even though he almost certainly won’t deliver on them today. Instead, he’ll likely tick off some of Apple’s accomplishments of the past 12 months and get the faithful excited for what’s to come.

I’ll be back with a live blog of the WWDC Keynote and the Forbes Tech channel will have extensive analysis of what Apple does announce from myself, Ewan Spence and others.

Follow me on Twitter. Read the rest of my Forbes posts here.

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